CultureSaturday 05.21.22

Brittney Griner Still Isn’t Free — Why Aren’t We Paying Attention?

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been held in a Russian jail for three months, after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage at a Moscow airport. Last week, her lawyer told the Associated Press that her pretrial detention was being extended by another month, the latest development in a Kafkaesque ordeal with no certain resolution in sight.

Griner, who faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, appeared in handcuffs at a hearing last week, her hair covered in a hoodie and her face held low. U.S. diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow were able to speak with her, and said “she is doing as well as can be expected in these circumstances.”

The Biden administration says the two-time Olympic gold medalist is being wrongfully detained. Since she was arrested, U.S. officials have been working toward her release, but without any visible progress. The United States’ proxy war with Russia in Ukraine is a complicating factor, and quite possibly the context of the arrest as well.

Dani Gilbert, a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy and an expert in state-sponsored hostage taking, spoke to ESPN about the month-long extension, saying “[w]e honestly don’t know if this is good or bad news. It could mean buying time to work out a swift deal for her release, or it could mean more complications put on the table.”

Griner was in Russia playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg, reportedly earning more money there than she does in the U.S. playing for the Phoenix Mercury. Her income as a WNBA player is capped at the maximum base salary of about $230,000.

The Long Game